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Breaking through: Gremlins softball wins first-ever district title

Houghton poses after defeating Negaunee for the Division 3 District 65 softball title Sunday at Legion Field in Calumet. The Gremlins pictured are Jada Guilbault, Delaney Salmi, Aydra Williamson, Brynn Arko, Clea Ollanketo, Danielle Williston, Ellie Hainault, Emmy Pietila, Stella Soumis, Fayah Zapolnik, Jacey Sleeman, Josie Switzer, Kia Markham, Kona Maruyama, Lexi Burns, Kenzie Collard, Reagan Moyle, and Romi Mattson. The Gremlins are coached by Mel Baker, Risa Williamson, and Josie Connors. (Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette)

CALUMET — On a rare sunny Sunday afternoon at Legion Field in Calumet, the Houghton Gremlins softball team did something it has never done before. Thanks to a two-run home run from pitcher Stella Soumis, and a trio of pop outs in the top of the seventh inning by the Negaunee Miners, the Gremlins (22-9 overall) earned their first-ever Division 3 District 65 title.

Gremlins coach Mel Baker was nearly rendered speechless by the entire experience, including the 4-3 victory over the Miners in the championship..

“It is not over yet, and it’s still sinking in a little bit, Negaunee coaches, saying, ‘Hey, what is the schedule? What do we do at regionals? So, anyway, it’s exciting, but hasn’t quite sunk in yet.”

Baker could not say enough about the efforts of Soumis, who went 1-for-2 at the plate with a walk and a home run. In the pitching circle, she was strong, going seven innings, striking out four, walking two and scattering six hits. She also made the catch for the final out of the day.

“Stella all around today had the two games of her life, right?” said Baker. “Then, for her to catch that last fly ball, was just the cherry on the top.

Houghton pitcher Stella Soumis follows through on a two-run home run during the championship game of the Division 3 District 65 tournament against Negaunee Sunday at Legion Field in Calumet. (Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette)

“She stepped up in more ways than one, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Seven batters into the game, it appeared that the Miners just might run away with the game. Teresa Anderson doubled to left field to lead off. Delaney Gladwell was hit by a pitch. Kallen Schultz then popped out, but Anderson scored on the play. Gladwell stole home with Miya Fredrickson at bat.

Then, after Fredrickson struck out, Rheana Nelson hit a grounder, but she reached first on a defensive error. Meanwhile, Schultz scored on the play, putting Negaunee up 3-0.

In a single-game matchup on Wednesday, May 22, the Miners defeated the Gremlins, 2-1, so a three-run first inning appeared to be a nearly insurmountable advantage.

Miners coach Randy Carlson felt that after that first inning, however, the Miners could never take advantage of any opportunity they created for themselves.

Houghton pitcher Stella Soumis (14) is mobbed by her teammates after hitting a two-run home run in the championship game of the Division 3 District 65 tournament against Negaunee Sunday at Legion Field in Calumet. (Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette)

“The thing is, we put traffic on every inning,” he said. “It just seemed like we couldn’t get, you know, we got our hits with two outs, and then we couldn’t get the big two-out hit. We had a lot of, after that first inning, we just could never get runners on early in innings. We’d get them, like I said, but it was always get two outs, and then get a couple hits.

Carlson was also quick to point out the fact that, after that first inning barrage, the Gremlins tightened things up defensively, which kept his group from being able to take advantage when they did finally get runners on the diamond.

“They made plays,” he said. “Ultimately, they made plays. You have to tip your hat to them.”

That was not more apparent than in the final three innings. In the top of the fifth, after Soumis walked pitcher Grace Nardi, she was caught trying to steal second just before Fredrickson struck out, ending the inning. In the top of the sixth, Alyssa Borlace singled to short with one out. Megan Marker then struck out, and two batters later, Anderson flied out to Gremlins shortstop Clea Ollanketo, ending the inning. In the seventh, Gladwell, Schultz, and Nardi all popped out, two of the three were right back to Soumis in the pitcher’s circle.

Soumis admitted that after that first inning, with her team down 3-0, she was struggling to keep her morale up.

“After they scored those three runs, I was a little bit down, because it’s three runs,” she said. “In our last game, they only scored two.”

Soumis had a chance to help herself out four batters into the bottom of the first.

After Ollanketo led off with a walk, she stole second and then later third, while center fielder Romi Mattson was at the plate. Mattson struck out, but with Ollanketo just feet away from the plate, center fielder Kenzie Collard carried her bat into the box. During her at bat, Ollanketo stole home, getting Houghton on the board. Collard then grounded a ball towards short and she reached first before the throw.

With Collard on first base, Soumis stepped in to face Nardi. Having hit her first career home run in Houghton’s semifinal matchup with Westwood, she was not sure she could top that moment. However, she turned on the first pitch from Nardi and ripped a line drive over the right field fence, tying the game at 3-3.

“That was amazing,” she said. “That was probably the highlight of my whole softball career in general, especially off of that good of a pitcher. I never expected for that to happen.”

From there, the two teams battled, but neither could get an advantage until Soumis drew a walk from Nardi to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Baker brought in Kia Markham as a courtesy runner for Soumis before first baseman Brynn Arko came to bat. After Arko popped out back to Schultz, second baseman Aydra Williamson laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Markham to second. Third baseman Jacey Sleeman then singled to right field, which scored Markham from second base.

Baker admitted that she lost her voice prior to Markham making the turn for home, but she was sure she made some noise of some kind to help encourage her runner.

“I was actually at third base coaching,” Baker said, “and my voice is not quite there 100%, but I did probably squeak a little bit and was excited when she touched home plate.”

While the loss to the Gremlins was not the storybook ending to her high school that Nardi wanted, she did nearly everything she could to help the Miners stay in the game. She drew a walk and collected an RBI despite going 0-for-3 at the plate. In the circle, she struck out 10 and walked three while scattering four hits in six innings of work.

“All in all, she pitched well,” said Carlson. “She’s pitched well her whole career, done a great job for us, and, you know, she’ll definitely be missed.”

Carlson was quick to point out that Nardi kept Houghton’s offense in check, which was what she was tasked with doing.

“She pitched well,” he said. “She had that first inning. We had a couple runners, and they get one big hit. And that’s the thing, like, in this game, too. That’s a (two)-run shot. That’s a big play, because they weren’t going to probably put together four or five hits, and score three runs with base hits, but you get one big fly (and that can happen).”

The Miners finished their season at 31-7.

MINERS ROLL OVER COPPER KINGS

In the opening semifinal of the day, the Miners earned a mercy-rule win over the host Calumet Copper Kings, 12-2. The Miners scored four runs in the first and then three more in each of the next two innings to jump out to a 10-0 lead before the Copper Kings finally got on the board themselves in the top of the fourth.

For Carlson and the Miners, getting off to the fast start was critical.

“That’s a key,” he said. “Jumping out early, it kind of takes a little bit of the pressure off and kind of lets people relax. So. I always like to see that if we can get some runs the first inning.”

Schultz led the Miners’ offense, going 3-for-4 with three RBI. Borlace was the only other Miners hitter with more than one hit as she went 2-for-4 with two RBI.

Nardi got the start in the pitching circle, and she went three innings, striking out six and walking two while not surrendering a hit. Ainsley Brunette threw three innings in relief, striking out two and giving up four hits.

While he was happy to get Nardi some work before the championship game, Carlson was proud of the way Brunette performed.

“I thought Ainsley threw really well,” he said. “She came in and threw strikes. She’s been a little bit wild this year, not really overall, but a lot of times, she’ll walk the first batter, or she’ll get in a little bit of trouble and then work her way out. So today, she came in throwing strikes.”

The Copper Kings struck against Brunette in the fourth in a sequence that started with a double from catcher Isabella Coppo. First baseman Chloe Coppo followed by reaching first on an error. Second baseman Kaylee Christopherson then brought both Coppos home with a line drive to left field. She reached safely on a defensive error.

Copper Kings coach Joel Rastello liked how his team recovered from the tough start.

“The girls really had some jitters, a lot of bobbles and missed balls that normally you’d make,” he said. “Don’t know what the heck was going on there, but we did finish well.”

The Miners had defeated the Copper Kings, 16-0, in the previous meeting between the two teams. Calumet’s coach felt that, in some ways Sunday was a better game, in others, less so.

“I think the first part of the game was worse than the first part of the game last week, but I thought overall, we played pretty well defensively,” Rastello said. “We made some really good defensive plays, and then we’d make some just plays that you would normally make. So, it’s kind of funny how the game goes.”

GREMLINS DEFEAT PATRIOTS

In the second semifinal, the Gremlins defeated the Westwood Patriots in five innings, 13-3.

Soumis led the way offensively, as she went 3-for-4 with three RBI, a home run, and three runs scored.

Soumis’ blast came in the bottom of the first inning as part of a five-run outburst by the Gremlins’ offense.

Pitcher Romi Mattson reached on a bunt with one out to spark the offense. Collard followed with a double to left field, scoring Mattson. Then Soumis stepped to the plate. On the third pitch she saw, she lined a hit over the center field fence for a two-run home run, the first of her career.

“(That) was her first home run of her career, so that was impressive to do it in a district game against Westwood,” said Baker. “I think she was pumped.”

Houghton added two more runs before the inning came to a close. They then tacked on two more before the Patriots got on the board in the top of the third when they scored all three of their runs.

The Gremlins scored five more runs over the fourth and fifth innings to seal the win.

Nolia Dawson and Izzy Marta each went 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored in the game for the Patriots. Morgan Schneider and Makayla Fisher both went 1-for-2.

“They always do their best,” said Patriots coach Cherish Ostola. “They always work together. They always pick each other up, and they did that today.”

For Houghton, Arko went 3-for-3 with four RBI. Mattson, Collard and Sleeman all collected two hits each.

Alexa Radcliffe got the start for the Patriots, going 3 1/3 innings and getting one strikeout. Niila Nurmi came in in relief, and she gave up just two hits and one walk in 1 1/3 innings of work.

“We tried to switch up pitchers,” Ostolla said. “We tried to keep the ball where it’s not their favorite place to hit it, but they’re an excellent team.”

The Gremlins turned to Mattson in the circle, and she delivered a four-hit game with three strikeouts and three walks in five innings of work.

UP NEXT

The Gremlins will return to action Saturday when they travel to Gladstone to face Grayling at 10 a.m. at Braves Field in the first semifinal of the Division 3 Region 17 tournament. Gladstone will host Boyne City in the second semifinal game at 12 p.m. The winners will then face off at 2 p.m. to determine who moves on to the state quarterfinals.

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